Many stories need to be told

August 06, 2015. Photo by Fred Solis.

By Adam Strunk, Newton Now

Find yourself a job you love as much as Judy Flaming loves hers.

That’s about the best advice I’d give anyone looking for a new career or coming out of school.

I had a chance to meet and write about Flaming, who teaches adaptive P.E. at Newton High School and has been doing so for the last two decades.

I go through work up and downs like everyone else. And last week I wasn’t particularly thrilled with life, as I had a number of stories fall through and was looking at a news story list that was emptier than I wanted.

A reader who pays close attention will have noticed we’ve changed who’s covering news lately. There are more bylines in the paper, and we’re able to cover more news articles, but managing the entire process falls to me and had me particularly exasperated and drained last Monday.

After a few minutes of stressing, I took a few deep breaths. I didn’t get into news for a desk to sit at; I got into news because I like people.

The wider your rear, the thinner your paper, I told myself, trying to get off my rear. I ran through my e-mails and picked an idea that was sent over by Newton Principal Lisa Moore.

I set up an interview, and what followed was an interesting and wonderful conversation with Flaming.

Flaming works with kids who have developed differently from others, be it mentally or physically.

Her job, on the surface, is to find ways of providing physical activities for these children. But within a few minutes of talking to her, it became clear so much more was going on.

For Flaming, her class served as more of a vehicle, using physical activities to help build confidence in her students and teach them they can achieve.

She’s especially adamant about teaching students swimming because it’s an activity nearly everyone can do for their entire life that requires no equipment, she said. She also talked about the spring show her classes put on every year, giving them a chance to show off their talents in front of a crowd, something that might be available to other students in a plethora of extra curricular activities but not her kids.

The story talked a lot about her use of gaming systems in her classes. You can get physical activity in using a Nintendo Wii, and it allows her students to play on a competitive playing field.

I’m soaking this up, and other bits and pieces of her story come through. She’s renting some of the games she uses with her own money. She uses her own money to do a number of things for her students. She also makes due with what she has. She holds her classes in one of the old girls locker rooms at the high school. She’s got learning stations set up in the shower. She’s got a table the kids play Uno on. The table sits between all the lockers and on top of a four square court she’s made. The kids spend time in the makeshift classroom when Flaming can’t find gym space for her classes.

That’s nothing new. That’s something a lot of teachers do. I watched my mom, a teacher, do it for like 14 years as I grew up.

Still, Flaming just kept talking about her program with a passion I wished I could find some days when the bed seemed especially warm and nice.

She and I went for a walk down to look at the Wii systems she uses for her class. I thought I could use a picture of them for the story. Along the way, we ran into Moore, who told Flaming that two new gaming systems, donated for her class, had arrived in the office.

The gaming systems were donated by Owens Bonding Inc., a nice gesture on its own and what originally prompted the idea for the story.

Flaming had no idea the systems came in and literally started jumping up and down when Moore gave her the news. She hustled down to the principal’s office, and I watched her quickly unwrap them like a child during Christmas. She excitedly started talking about how happy her kids were going to be and what all they could do with the new systems.

Flaming decided that some of her kids needed to see them right away. So she started a parade in the school, with Flaming walking a bit, running into a student, excitedly showing them the classroom’s new addition, and then moving on. She did this in the halls, in the cafeteria and eventually in a special education classroom.

She opened the boxes with some of her students. I stood back and snapped a few pictures with my phone. That’s the most excited I’ve seen any adult get about video games. And, as a plus, the donation came with a gift card so Flaming won’t have to spend money on games or controllers anymore.

I stood back watching Flaming and her students all smiling and thought, “She loves her work so much because it matters. She can see that it matters.” And I thought about how much better I felt after interviewing her. Stories like Flaming’s need to be told and repeated. And telling those stories matters, too, I guess. I was glad I got to do it.